Mike Kin, Aqua ViTea’s Art Director, creates the distinctive artwork on all our bottles, growlers, taps, gear, signage, website and social media. For nearly a decade, Spicy Mike’s creations have defined our Kombucha brand and company culture. As Aqua ViTea’s first employee, Mike has worn many hats over the years, including as head brewer.
With the return of our fan-favorite Mulled Cider Kombucha, we fired off a few questions to Mike about his Mulled Cider icons, the Sasquatches, his creative process and how his art connects to the Aqua ViTea “culture.” He responds in classic Spicy fashion. Enjoy.
What do Sasquatches have to do with Mulled Cider Kombucha?
The easier question might be “What don’t Sasquatches have to do with Mulled Cider Kombucha?”. I could talk all day long on that one. Otherwise, you’ve got me stumped on the first question.
How did you come up with idea to create the origin story of mulled cider kombucha and to create a graphic novel to share the tale?
I grew up reading “Asterix and Obelix” and “Tintin” comic books. I had an older cousin who lived in Chicago, which was exponentially hipper than anything in mid-Michigan at the time, who introduced my brother and I to them. They are the literary and aesthetic prism through which I see the world. So, I’ve always secretly wanted to engage in visual, panel based storytelling. At one point, while doing a google search on the origins of kombucha, I had a silent chuckle to myself about the mushiness of the origin stories I was finding. They were/are so vague. Because of that I thought it would be fun to see if I could create my own origin stories for kombucha. This isn’t to take away from the seriousness or truthiness of the Sasquatches though. They are real. It would probably make them sad to hear me talk like this.
So when/if the Sasquatches make their kombucha they would most definitely be using ingredients that they would find in the natural world (as we ourselves do with all our flavors). This would be/is of necessity since they need to be as stealthy and secretive as possible and a large lab creating synthetic ingredients would be quite the red flag. Also, in order to stay on the down low they use the volcano to heat up their cider, since a large, smoky campfire would be yet another red flag. Most people don’t notice ginormous kettles on top of volcanos these days with the news cycle as distracting as it is.
What’s next for the Sasquatch family?
Hold on, it might take me a minute to fire up my oracle. It takes a while to warm up…here it is. Seems as winter is coming and the Sasquatches might be preparing for the cozy, long nights ahead. However…eeek…what was that?…Seems as though, hazy as it the oracle is, the Sasquatches will be getting into quite a few adventures.
You’ve created many characters for Aqua ViTea? Where do the Sasquatches rank in the favorite characters and what are some of your other favorite works of art?
I’ve got no favorites (that’s a lie…Big Al Bacteria is my favorite. Don’t say anything though, because I’ve told them ALL they’re my favorites). Nevertheless, I’ve wanted to do something like the Sasquatches for quite awhile. In one of my previous lives, I lived in the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR) where I worked as a naturalist educator for the Audubon Society. I led a week long camp up on Mt. St. Helens that was focused on searching for Sasquatch and exploring the temperate rainforest that was such a perfect setting for these mythical beings. So, I was steeped in the Sasquatch storytelling of the region.
On the art angle, I’m an omnivore. I love everything from the poster arts of Alphonse Mucha to the large color-field paintings of Mark Rothko. Philip Guston to the woodblock prints of Hiroshige and the amazing illustrations of Ralph Steadman. I’m also super excited to see so many amazing murals going up all over the world. The likes of Shepard Fairey (Obey Giant), Nosego and Pixelpancho leave me quite breathless when seeing their amazing pieces at that enormous scale. Right now I’m pretty obsessed with reading Shigeru Mizuki’s graphic novel series “Showa: A History of Japan”.
What type of feedback do you get from Kombucha lovers about the art you create for Aqua ViTea?
Depends on how close to the amp that I hold them. But, seriously? When I get introduced to people (or introduce myself) as “the artist for Aqua Vitea”, I always hear very kind things. Most people seem to respond positively to the handmade, colorful aesthetic. My main goal is give people a brief moment, in what may otherwise be a hectic day, to sit with something that surprises, bewilders, entertains or calms them. If it creates a question, I’m happy. If it stirs a memory, I’m happy. If it makes them shake their head or jump for joy, I’m happy. As long as they’ve engaged for a moment, I’m psyched!
Up until a year ago, I was still head brewer and spending lots of time with the kombucha culture every day. I’m sure this made it’s way into my artwork in both conscious and subconscious ways. One example would be the increasing usage of patterns and tessalations in my paintings and illustrations. The repeated viewing through a microscope of the bacteria and yeast in their tight configurations surely influenced this. There’s a synergistic relationship there in that the time spent with such an amazing biological entity feeds the art and the intentionality of the artwork feeds back to the kombucha culture. Hopefully, those in our larger social culture can see and feel that. Culture to culture, one feeds the other, as we like to say around these parts.